The Republican-controlled House will vote next month on whether to hold Lois Lerner in contempt for her role in the IRS targeting of conservative groups "unless she agrees to testify" before then, Majority Leader Eric Cantor said in a memo to colleagues on Friday.
In the memo outlining the House's spring agenda, Cantor noted that House Oversight and Government Reform Committee had recommended that Lerner be held in contempt for refusing to answer questions on the scandal "after initially testifying under subpoena."
The Virginia Republican noted that "thorough investigations" by the oversight panel and the House Ways and Means Committee found that Lerner "played a central role in the illegal targeting of conservative groups by the IRS."
Ways and Means also referred "evidence of criminal violations" by Lerner to Attorney General Eric Holder, Cantor said in the memo.
He said that Lerner could stop the contempt vote if she testified before the oversight committee.
Lerner was head of the department that evaluated applications for tax-exempt status sought by nonprofit organizations. Her department was found to have singled out tea party, conservative, and religious groups for specialized screening that often involved unusual delays and detailed requests for information.
The scrutiny of the groups started in 2010 and continued to just before the 2012 presidential election. Among the groups targeted were True the Vote, the Houston-based organization that combats election fraud, and Crossroads Grassroots Policy Strategies,
a nonprofit political group advised by Republican strategist Karl Rove.
Lerner retired last September in light of the scandal. She was put on administrative leave shortly after news of the screenings broke last May.
She has invoked her Fifth Amendment rights twice when questioned by the House oversight committee, which is chaired by Rep. Darrell Issa of California. When she first appeared in May, Lerner denied wrongdoing but refused to answer any questions, citing her constitutional right against self-incrimination.
"I have done nothing wrong. I have not broken any laws," she said in her opening statement at that hearing. "I have not violated any IRS rules or regulations, and I have not provided false information to this or any other congressional committee."
The next month, the committee voted 22-17 that Lerner had waived her Fifth Amendment rights by making the statement before declining to testify.
Her second appearance before the panel was this past March. That brief appearance was largely overshadowed by an angry confrontation between Issa and Maryland Democratic Rep. Elijah Cummings as the hearing adjourned.
Issa, who ordered that Cummings' microphone be cut off as he was speaking, apologized to Cummings the next day.
In fact, Issa and other Republican committee members charged last month that Cummings spurred
the True the Vote investigation by sharing information his staff had obtained from the group with Lerner.
Cummings, who has been in the House since 1996, did not share any of that information with the panel, GOP members charged. The Democrat has contended that he was conducting appropriate oversight of True the Vote.
Ways and Means recommended last month that Lerner's intervention should be investigated as a crime by the Justice Department because she treated Republican-leaning groups unfairly. No decision has been made yet by Holder.
Documents released by Judicial Watch earlier this month showed that Lerner last year discussed working with Justice to prosecute nonprofit organizations that she felt had "lied" about their political activities.
The communications had occurred within days
of Lerner publicly acknowledging the targeting of the conservative groups, according to the documents.
Lerner's attorney, William Taylor of Zuckerman Spaeder in Washington, has contended that his client has done nothing wrong and has slammed any effort to hold her in contempt. He did not respond to a message left at his office by Newsmax on Friday.
In other matters outlined in Cantor's memo, the majority leader said the House would take action on several veterans' issues — as well as vote on bills to combat human trafficking, to overhaul federal charter school programs, and to approve the annual National Defense Authorization Act.
The House also will begin working on appropriations bills for next fiscal year, Cantor said.
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